Category Archives: shelter

Meeting with Police Chief Fruitful

Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn and Zone Commander Marty Ferrell met with Oldtimer and with homeless advocate Jeff Straka, both of Macland Presbyterian Church,  today on neutral ground, the Atlanta Bread Company.

Left to right:  Commander Marty Ferrell, Chief of Police Dan Flynn,  Jeff Straka

(photo by Oldtimer, not shown)

The hour long meeting over coffee was very fruitful, with both sides coming away feeling quite good about the progress made in reducing the tension over the homeless situation.   The chief seemed very interested in addressing the homeless problems in a caring and proactive manner and not only listened to what we had to say, but offered suggestions of his own that did not involve harsh treatment of the homeless.

I offered the chief details of the shelter shortage for emergency shelter, tansitional and supportive housing and he was a bit taken aback as to how needful this area is for more homeless support.   I also gave him talleys from 211 call records that showed there were more than 2000 calls last year seeking shelter and transitional housing in our community.  Jeff gave him a book to read on homeless and he agreed to read it. 

He agreed that the recent homeless sweeps were the result of perhaps only 3 or 4 individuals that had been involved in serious criminal activity along with a more visible presence of the homeless in recent months.   All of that raised the level of complaints to the point that they felt they had to take action, but that the vast majority of the affected homeless were not involved in criminal activity, but just caught in the middle.  

He assured us that the police would not in the future make any general comments about the homeless that might cast them in a bad light, or lump them into the same category as those causing the problems.    He realizes the need for treatment for substance abuse and mental illness among the homeless, but does not have a solution for it.

We all agreed that criminals that may be hiding among the homeless should be rooted out and dealt with.  The Chief did say that they would concentrate on solving specific crimes involving the homeless and resolving specific complaints and not target those who merely happen to be homeless.  He assured us that his officers will show compassion to those that are not otherwise breaking the law.   He asked Jeff and I to call him or Commander Ferrell anytime we felt that the police had mistreated the homeless and they would investigate it.

The police will still have to respond to complaints, but did accept our suggestion that homeless advocates be alerted prior to any future sweeps and allow advocates to accompany them and collect tents and personal belongings and transport them to storage for the affected homeless to pick up rather than haul it to the dump.  I had suggested that we would look into how we might implement it.

He proposed a possible program similar to one in Savannah where he had been chief before coming to Marietta, one in which a person or team assigned by the police would be proactive in case work for the homeless that they encounter as the result of complaints (where no criminal activity is involved).  The caseworker would help locate needed services for the homeless rather than just run them off or put them in jail overnight.  He suggested that such a program would pursue stronger punishment for the ones that commit more serious offences and more leniency for those merely complained about that not involved in criminal activity.  He suggested that such a program might help many get off the streets.

Jeff proposed that our chuch establish an educational forum on the homeless for the community at large, including service providers, other churches, police and homeless within the community to address these problems.  The chief said they would attend as long as they were productive and not “shouting matches,” something we would not have allowed anyway.  Jeff is looking into bringing guests from other cities that have successfully addresed these problems.

I suggested a particular job program for the homeless that would require some cooperation from the police and the chief seemed very receptive but did not think they could help fund it.  More on that later if we can get it off the ground.

Jeff in his special shirt 



Ministering to the Homeless 6

Church opens its doors, heart for homeless to keep warm 

By Chris Green
(originally posted Feb 11, 2007, no longer in print – see below for an update and another link)  You can find a copy of the original here
ROCKFORD — The thermostat in the sanctuary at First Christian Church is set at a toasty 75 degrees. The only thing warmer Tuesday in the tiny house of worship was homemade chicken soup and the hearts of those who served it, the Revs. Alphonzo and Barbara Heath. 

The husband and wife pastors have opened up the doors of their southwest side church at 325 Heath St. to serve as an impromptu warming center and 24-hour, seven-days-a-week shelter for the homeless. 

 Barbara Heath said local weather reports last week on the evening news predicting the current spell of sub-zero temperatures prompted the church to start the fledgling ministry.

“When I was looking at the news, they said the temperatures were going to be life threatening. I said, ‘We don’t have enough places for people to go to in the city.’ I told my husband, ‘We’re opening the church.’ I just felt it’s our responsibility.” 

Coinciding with the arrival of the arctic blast Sunday, the Heaths not only have welcomed the homeless, they are feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between meals, fruit, coffee and tea is available.  All is provided with funds from the 25-member congregation, outside donations and the Heaths’ own pockets.

In the basement of the church, a small kitchen is where the smell of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and other nightly meals have originated and lofted throughout the 1,100-square-foot building. The basement also is where large squares of cardboard have been taped together, spread on the floor and topped with blankets on which the guests may sleep.  In another corner of the basement, those same guests congregate during the day to watch TV, play cards and read magazines.

“A local business owner/Christian brought two checks, one for $100 and one for $150,” she said. “Somebody gave my husband $60 and another person gave $40.” More moving than the monetary donations were the offerings from a woman who learned of the church’s shelter and brought blankets. “And you know what? She took her coat off and left it, too,” Heath said.

Word about the church opening its doors spread through Rockford, a city of around 150,000. The announcement was an answered prayer for one man in the congregation. After worship ended, he told Barbara he had no place to live, as of that day.  “He stayed, and he’s been there ever since,” she said.  
The local newspaper ran an article on Feb. 7. Two television stations featured the church in local news segments.   First Christian is now sheltering up to 20 people each night and feeding 60-70 during the day. Some families who have homes but no water due to frozen pipes come to the church for dinner. Others arrive during the day to get warm, and then go back to other shelters at night.
Oldtimer’s comment:  While sleeping on cardboard is hardly luxury living, it is warm and safe.  These people would have been sleeping behind buildings in the snow without these accommodations.   Since this story is a year old already, I’ve looked for an update to see what is happening.   Here are some related Good News!

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ROCKFORD ILL.   Ivy Mims wasn’t sure what she was going to do for Thanksgiving dinner.Mims, who works two jobs and is working toward becoming a registered nurse, said her busy schedule and tight budget usually mean a baloney sandwich or TV dinner for eats.

Things weren’t going to be too different this Thanksgiving.    While traveling down State Street in downtown Rockford with Joseph Diaz, she on foot and he in his wheelchair, they got a pleasant surprise – a sleek black limousine pulled up next to them offering a ride and a good meal. 

Quincy Heath, owner of Heath Limousine, picked up nearly 40 people on Thursday to give them a luxury ride to First Christian Church, 325 Heath St., for a free meal.   (Oldtimer’s note: Quincy is Alphonzo’s brother)

Mims, who is Diaz’s personal assistant, said she didn’t know anything about the free meal but quickly found out Heath was for real.

Heath picked up passengers from the Rockford Rescue Mission, bus stops and other locations in town. Many were homeless or poor, others just might not be able to scrape up enough cash or time to cook a quality meal. Heath and First Christian Church gave them a chance to get a little first-class treatment.

“A lot of people don’t have and they don’t know what it is like to have,” Heath said.

For years, pastors Barbara and Alphonzo Heath had quiet family dinners on Thanksgiving, but for the last two years, they wanted to branch out.

“Melannie Boston, who moved gingerly on a swollen ankle, had fallen on hard times. She and fiance Richard Bockewitz are living paycheck to paycheck and constantly on the move, finding different places to stay.

“They let us have luxury for just one day; it was nice,” Boston said. “They care enough to take time from their family to help us here.”

This is What Ministering to the Homeless and Needy Means!